Get Cultured — June 6, 2017 at 1:40 pm

“How To Be Safe” is a Well-Crafted Study About Mental Health

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How to Be Safe featuring Faith Sandberg as Audrey Photo by Rachael Elana Photography

Mental health is something people are becoming more and more open about. Mental health was not something people were open about at all when it came to themselves. It is a tricky subject to tackle as a writer thanks to its multifaceted existence and the conditions it brings when it becomes unstable. How do you portray something so complex as anxiety? How do you help the people in the audience understand why a person can’t leave their house? How do you create mentally unstable characters without also creating a caricature of the condition itself? These are questions that have plagued storytellers for years with only a selected few being able to create a realistic depiction of the humans that live with it and how it affects their lives and those around it. After seeing Ashley Jacobson’s How To Be Safe at the Kraine this past weekend, we can add another name of playwrights that have gone into this rabbit hole and succeeded at it.

The play follows the lives of two women in two very different situations. Willow is a former addict that harms herself to get a glimpse of what a feeling is. One day in the bus to one of her meetings she meets her counterpart, a recluse named Audrey who is terrified by the world outside her house. Jenna D’Angelo and Faith Sandberg’s chemistry as these two is apparent from the first scene, and it is what keeps the show together when some moments become a little too long. Their journey into accepting each other, forming a bond and then finding a way to both move toward a healthier life is one in which I was enthralled. Jacobson does a great job in not only making their mental state a reality to us, but also getting the audience to care about these characters and their actions. We care about them like family and could only wish them the best when the play ends. Beautiful.

How to Be Safe featuring Jenna D'Angelo as Willow Photo by Rachael Elana Photography

On the other hand, I wish scenes with the male counterpart played by Brandon Ferraro, were more sparse and not as lengthy as they were. While his performance was brilliant, his character is a plot device at best and the women characters are by far more interesting. This is not a knock on his performance, but a small flaw in such a nice package.

I have to say, I loved the transitions happening while Audrey watched TV! It formed the perfect effect for the audience. You could feel her loneliness, desperation, and even her fears. You wanted to run onto the stage and tell her it would all be okay. To cuddle her, to try and get her to a better spot in life. But this is where Jacobson succeeds the most as a storyteller. Because of her writing, we understand that it is not that simple. That a hug could create a chain reaction. That an act of kindness can actually create damage. This is an important realization for the audience to have, and Jacobson should be proud she manages to give them that.

“How To be Safe” will be playing at the Kraine Theater until June 17th. A powerful study on mental health and its many paths, I recommend wholeheartedly you go and see this production by The Dirty Blondes. It’s not often for such a truthful show about this subject to grace the stages of NYC.

*Images via Rachael Elana Photography

Out of four stars:

fourstars

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